Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Perceptions of Early Christians, Mormons, and the Book of Mormon

[From Joseph  J. Walsh, "On Christian Atheism," Vigiliae Christianae 45 (1991): 255-77].

Joseph Walsh discusses the accusation that early Christians were atheists, an accusation that may puzzle many Christians today. Much of this, he writes can be attributed to simple ignorance. He writes:

Clearly there was a lack of accurate information concerning Christianity, and many pagans had not yet made the fundamental distinctions about the Christians. But as the number of Christians grew and proselytization constantly brought Christianity to the attention of the pagan population, the Roman world became better acquainted with Christian beliefs and practices. Eventually everyone knew some Christians and apostates who could testify in word and deed to the falsehood of the scurrilous accusations. Non-Christians would discover that exotic libertine sects (to the extent that they existed) formed a small minority and were execrated more by mainstream Christians than by the pagan community. The tenacity of these charges, current long after they ought to have been dispelled, testifies to their significance and to the power of our second factor: pagan hatred for the Christians (Walsh, 265).

Walsh also writes:

Some Americans who have never read the Book of Mormon and have virtually no knowledge of Mormon theology nurse a powerful hatred towards the religion. Perceptions and impressions of Mormon abstemiousness, proselytizing, prosperity, self-righteousness, cliquishness, political conservatism, and bigamy arouse this animosity. So too loathing of Christians is to be explained  by a melange of characteristics which irritated and affronted pagans, although many of Christianity's enemies had little knowledge of the new sect's message (Walsh, 268).

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